John Rutherford: Britain's fishermen are the heroes of the recovery of cod stocks

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Cod stocks in the North Sea are up. They have increased by 5 per cent over the past year and by 40 per cent over their average level for the period 2000-2008.

There is still some way to go before we can rely on the long-term viability of this species in the North Sea, but this new data suggests we have turned a corner. What's more, the news means that, for the first time in over a decade, scientists at the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea are likely to recommend an increase in cod quotas to the European Union for 2010.

Better news still is the role being played by fishermen in the recovery of this iconic species. A variety of initiatives from the seafood industry have combined with new legislation to improve the situation for North Sea cod. For instance, fishermen in Scotland have voluntarily engaged with scientists to create real-time closures of fishing areas where spawning stocks of cod are known to exist. Bigger mesh sizes in nets have been introduced to allow juvenile fish to escape the nets, and fishermen have also reduced the amount of effort focused on catching cod.

In recent weeks, we have had the great news that the European Union intends to think again about its policy of discarding over-quota species caught in EU waters. For years, the seafood industry has campaigned alongside responsible NGOs to see the wasteful practice of discarding stopped. What is needed is a management regime which allows responsible fishing to continue, protecting jobs, skills and fishing communities, while also giving fish stocks support to recover to full biological sustainability.

It is high time that more was done to recognise the role played by British fishermen, who are the unsung heroes helping to protect fish stocks and, by extension, their own livelihoods. It is time people realised Britain has more fisheries certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council than any other nation on earth.

We are also the first country to instigate a nationwide Responsible Fishing Scheme (RFS) which now counts more than 44 per cent of the UK fleet by tonnage among its members. And more vessels are applying to join this scheme every week.

John Rutherford is chief executive of the seafood industry authority Seafish

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